NEWELL - West Bend Mallard football coach Koy Goodchild, like most coaches, doesn't take much stock in state rankings.
Going into Friday night's clash with Newell-Fonda in Newell, the Wolverines are top-ranked in Class A. Goodchild begs to differ.
"We're still a work in progress," Goodchild said Tuesday night. "We are awfully young up front and still learning at some positions. At this point, I don't think were the top Class A team in our state."
Newell-Fonda coach Brian Wilken takes even less stock in rankings; his Mustangs are sixth-ranked in Class A, and adds that his team is still the underdog in Friday's game that will decide the district championship.
He may be thinking of last year's game, when his Mustangs gained just 26-yards rushing in a 35-7 loss.
"They have some outstanding athletes on both sides of the ball," Wilken said. "Their team hasn't changed much from last year. They just say here it is, try to stop us on offense. On defense, they don't make mistakes. They play hard-nosed football and tackle extremely well. It's a big challenge for us."
With both teams 7-0 in district and overall play, the winner will be the probable district champion. Both teams have clinched state playoff berths.
Wilken added that WBM has proved over the past three seasons that's it's one of the top Class A football programs in the state. The Wolverines have won 27 straight district games and 20 consecutive games overall.
Last season, they upset top-ranked, favored Galva-Holstein in the state semis and went on to win the Class A title.
Goodchild, however, says things can change over a year. His team returns five starters on both sides of the ball.
"Right now, we aren't nearly the team we were last year," he said. "Last year, our offensive line dominated other teams, but we're new from tackle to tackle this season.
"We'll find out how good we are Friday night against Newell-Fonda. They return a lot of kids from last year, and are extremely well-coached.
"They're the top rushing team in our district, have a very tough defense, and they've been dangerous on special teams all year."
The top two offensive and defensive returnees for WBM are 6-foot-1, 210 pound senior running back/linebacker Brad Ruppert and 5-11 senior quarterback/defensive back Jason Banwart.
Ruppert has run for 989 yards this season after rushing for over 1,000 last year. He averages 6.7 yards per carry and has rushed for 12 touchdowns.
Banwart has good mobility, having run 21 times with an average of seven yards per carry. He has completed 34 of 59 passes for 700 yards and five touchdowns.
As a team, the Wolverines average 272 yards rushing per game and 116 passing.
"We're just going to try to be consistent and keep making first downs," Goodchild said. "This year, we've done more passing and are more balanced than we were last year.
"We probably can't match Newell-Fonda's overall team speed," Goodchild added. "One of their guards is probably faster than our tailback. This game will give us a good barometer on just how good a team we are at this point."
In winning its first seven games, WBM gave up one touchdown in each of the first four games, but has posted shutouts in each of the past three weeks, including a 40-0 win over a physical Graettinger-Terril team and a 37-0 win over Clay Central Everly.
"Our biggest challenge Friday will be dealing with Newell-Fonda's running game," Goodchild said. "They'll be by far the most physical team we've faced all year and they have great all-around team speed."
On offense through seven wins, Newell-Fonda's closest game was last week in a 14-0 win over Rockwell City-Lytton. Prior to that, they had posted four shutouts and averaged 42 points per game.
On offense, Newell-Fonda averages 332 rushing yards per game, but just 33 passing.
The leading rushers are senior speedsters Chad Buchholz and David Hopper. Hopper has led a balanced rushing attack with 659 yards on 78 carries, averaging nearly 8.5 yards per rush. Buchholz has run 52 times for 618 yards, averaging nearly 12 yards per attempt.
"They have some very good backs," Goodchild said. "But they're quick and physical up front. It's going to be a challenge four our defense to matchup with their fine offensive line."
Wilken's biggest concern is stopping Ruppert, and controlling the time of possession with his running game.
"We want to keep the ball out of Ruppert's and Banwart's hands," Wilken said. "We'll have to tackle well, and we also have to be concerned with their ability to pass.
"Banwart is an all-district quarterback who runs and throws well, and they have some athletic and physical receivers as well."
Goodchild is well aware of the Mustangs' outstanding special teams. In kicker Peter Olsen, Newell-Fonda has an offensive weapon, and Buchholz is capable of breaking off a kick or punt return. Thus far this season, he's averaging just over 30-yards per return.
"To play the No. 1 (Class A) team in our state for the district championship is a great opportunity for our kids," Wilken added. "We'll have to play mistake free, and if we win, it'll be because we earned it. West Bend Mallard is fundamentally sound and never beats itself."